This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for June 5) is written by Stephen Bond, senior pastor with Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada.
God Keeps His Promise (Joshua 1:1-6; 11:16-23)
By Stephen Bond
In Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, author Ben Patterson tells a story from his personal life.
In the summer of 1988, three friends and I climbed Mount Lyell, the highest peak in Yosemite National Park. Two of us were experienced mountaineers; two of us were not. I was not one of the experienced two. . . . The climb to the top and back was to take the better part of a day due, in large part, to the difficulty of the glacier that one must cross to get to the top.
As the hours passed and we trudged up the glacier, the two mountaineers opened up a wide gap between me and my less-experienced companion. Being competitive by nature, I began to look for short cuts to beat them to the top. I thought I saw one to the right of an outcropping of rock, so I went up, deaf to the protests of my companion.
Thirty minutes later I was trapped in a cul-de-sac of rock atop the glacier, looking down several hundred feet of sheer slope of ice, pitched at a 45 degree angle. . . . I was only ten feet from the safety of a rock. But one little slip and I wouldn’t stop sliding until I landed in the valley floor about 50 miles away! I was stuck and I was scared.1
That’s an apt description for some seasons in our lives. We get stuck and become afraid. Fear can immobilize us. It prevents us from moving forward. Fear squeezes the joy out of life. It reduces our faith to a Shetland pony-size version of what God intended to be a Clydesdale-sized confidence in Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament hero Joshua also faced fear head-on. His example can teach us how faith in the living God can help us to overcome fear.
In Joshua 1, the Israelites were camped on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. The promised land stretched out in front of them to the west. The Israelites had heard about the land of milk and honey for 800 years. Four hundred years passed from Abraham to Joseph and another 400 were spent in Egypt. Living in Canaan had been a dream that gripped Israel for 15 generations.
Now the people were on the verge of fulfilling that dream. But the greatest obstacle to moving into the promised land was neither the Jordan nor the well-fortified cities throughout Canaan. No, the greatest obstacle before Israel was fear. This is why in Joshua 1 God repeatedly says, “Be strong and courageous!”
To help Joshua (and us) overcome fear, God outlines a series of amazing promises. In verse 3, God says he will give Joshua every place he sets his foot. In verse 4, God promises the Israelites their land will extend from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River. Then in verse 5, he promises that no one will be able to stand against them. God promises to be with Joshua just like he was with Moses. God says he will never leave him or forsake him.
Few things push back fear and inspire courage more than claiming God’s promises. But we need to keep in mind many of God’s promises are for Christ followers. These aren’t blanket promises for everyone. They’re for those who follow Christ. Three of these promises are especially encouraging:
- We’re promised God’s power. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (Acts 1:8, author’s emphasis). Among the blessings that come to us when we accept Jesus Christ is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Every Christ follower is given the indwelling presence of the Spirit to empower us to live Christlike lives. The word for “power” in the original language is dunamis, which is the same root word used in dynamite. God has placed spiritual dynamite in us so we’ll have the strength to overcome every scary challenge we face.
- We’re promised God’s provision. “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). God never asks us to do something without also giving the resources to do it. This means if God calls you to forgive, he’ll give you the strength to do it. If God calls you to step out in faith, he’ll provide what you need to take that step. Our job is to obey, and God’s job is to supply.
- We’re promised God’s presence. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Christ followers always have Christ with them. The promise to Joshua is repeated for all believers in Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” It’s comforting to know we never need to go through life alone.
God has made these promises—and others—to us. But do we believe them? I read about a man who purchased a blazer at Nordstrom. The longer he kept it, the less he liked it. After wearing it regularly for the first six months, he stuck it in his closet for about a year. Tucked away in the back of his mind was Nordstrom’s famous unconditional return policy.
After about 18 months, he thought he’d try to return the blazer even though he didn’t really think Nordstrom would exchange it since he’d worn it so many times. He walked up to the first salesperson he saw and gave a little speech he’d prepared: “I’m about to put your famous unconditional-return policy to its ultimate test. I have here a blazer. I’ve worn it lots. I’ve had it for a year and a half. I don’t like it. It’s the wrong color and attracts lint like it’s going out of style. But I want to return this blazer for another one that I like.” Then he stood there.
The salesperson replied, “For heaven’s sake, what took you so long? Let’s go find a blazer you like.” Ten minutes later the man walked out with a new blazer that was marked $75 more than what he paid for the one he returned. It was perfect and didn’t cost a penny more.
God, we could say, is like a supersized Nordstrom. God makes these incredible promises, but many times we can’t bring ourselves to believe they’re true. Finally, when we’re overcome by fear or despair, we eventually cry out to God. We claim his promise, and then the Lord comes through. But along the way I wonder if God sometimes thinks: For heaven’s sake, what took you so long?
Relying on God
Before he sent the Israelites across the Jordan River, God made a series of promises to Joshua to give him courage and strength. We read about these promises being fulfilled in Joshua 11:16-23. God always keeps his promises! We can face our fears by resting in God’s promises. Christ followers have the promise of God’s power, his provision, and his presence.
Remember Ben Patterson, who was stuck and afraid to move on Lyell Glacier in Yosemite National Park? Let me finish his story.
It took an hour for my experienced climbing friends to find me. Standing on the rock I wanted to reach, one of them leaned out and used an ice axe to make two little footsteps in the glacier. Then he gave me the following instructions: “Ben, you must step out from where you are and put your foot where the first foothold is. Without a moment’s hesitation swing your other foot across and land it on the next step. Then reach out and I’ll take your hand and pull you to safety. But listen carefully: As you step across, don’t lean into the mountain! If anything lean out a bit. Otherwise, your feet could fly out from under you and you’ll start sliding down.”
When I’m on the edge of a cliff, my instinct is to lie down and hug the mountain, to become one with it, not lean away from it! But that was what my good friend was telling me to do as I stood trembling on that glacier. I looked at him real hard. . . . For a moment, based solely on what I believed to be true about the good will and good sense of my friend, I decided to say no to what I felt . . . to lean out, step out, and traverse the ice to safety. It took less than two seconds to find out if my faith was well founded. It was.
Perhaps you find yourself stuck and fearful. You can’t go back, you can’t go down, you can’t go up, and you can’t go forward. But today Jesus reaches out his hand and says, “I’m here. I keep my promises. Step out in faith and I’ll pull you past your fears into the incredible future I’ve prepared for you.”
1 Ben Patterson, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1989).
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.
|HOME DAILY BIBLE READINGS|
|May 30: Acts 26:1-7|
|May 31: Romans 9:1-5|
|June 1: Romans 9:6-12|
|June 2: Romans 9:22-26|
|June 3: 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1|
|June 4: Romans 15:7-13|
|June 5: Joshua 1:1-6; 11:16-23|
ABOUT THE LESSON WRITER: Stephen Bond is senior pastor with Summit Christian Church in Sparks, Nevada. He received his DMin from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.